The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers to give employees time off for their own serious health conditions (among other things). If your employer refused to give you medical or disability-related leave (or leave for taking care of a family member), fired you for taking or requesting FMLA leave, or didn't reinstate you to your former position when you returned from leave, you have the right to sue for money damages, including the wages you lost, benefits you should have received, and more.
To figure out whether you have a good legal claim against your employer (and to file a lawsuit, if you decide to move forward), you'll need to talk to a lawyer. Below, we explain how to find an employment lawyer and what to expect from your first meeting.
If you were looking for a recommendation for a service provider like an accountant or car mechanic, you would probably ask your friends and family. This is also a good place to start in your search for a lawyer, but remember that lawyers specialize. For an FMLA case, you will want to find an employment lawyer who represents employees (or "plaintiffs," the legal name for the person who is bringing the lawsuit). If you know someone who was pleased with an employment lawyer he or she used, that's great. If not, you'll want to contact lawyers from one of the professional referral sources below.
In every state, lawyers must be licensed to practice law by the state bar association. Many counties and even cities have their own associations, which lawyers can join. These groups often have lists of lawyers that specialize in particular areas of law, called referral panels or services. Contact your state or county bar association and ask for lawyers near you who specialize in employment law. You can find contact information for your state bar association by selecting it from the list at Martindale.com.
The National Employment Lawyers' Association (NELA) is a membership organization of lawyers who represent employees in employment lawsuits. There are many state and local NELA affiliates, too. NELA maintains a list of employment lawyers, organized by subject matter and by state. To find lawyers near you, select "FMLA" and your state at NELA's "Find a Lawyer" page.
There are many commercial lawyer referral services as well. For example, Nolo has a lawyer directory at nolo.com that lists attorneys by state and practice specialty. To get started, select your state from the employment lawyers directory at www.nolo.com/lawyers/employment.
Once you have a few lawyer names, it's time to set up some initial consultations and decide whether you want to work together. Start by calling each lawyer for a phone conversation. During this talk, explain your situation briefly. The lawyer will likely ask you some questions, then let you know whether he or she is interested in meeting face to face to discuss your claims further. The lawyer might not have time to take your case, or may not think you have a strong case against your employer. Either way, you can ask the lawyer to give you a referral to another attorney who might have the time and inclination to take on your business.
If you and the lawyer will meet in person, ask what you should bring to the meeting. Some lawyers will ask for employment documents; the lawyer may ask you to prepare a short timeline or description of the important events in your case. You should also bring basic contact information for your employer and any employees who might be willing to talk to the lawyer about what happened.
Before the meeting, you should also ask if the lawyer will charge for this initial consultation. Some lawyers do; others offer a free consultation, at least for a set period of time, such as an hour. (For information on how lawyers charge for FMLA claims, see our article on paying your FMLA lawyer.)
At the meeting, go over the facts of your case with the lawyer. After asking some questions and filling in the details, the lawyer should be able to tell you how he or she would proceed with your claim. If the lawyer doesn't think you have a strong claim, the lawyer should be able to explain why. If the lawyer thinks you have grounds for a lawsuit, ask what the lawyer would do—and in what time frame—to assert your rights. If you are interested in moving forward, you should also ask about the lawyer's fee arrangements. If you wish, you can ask the lawyer to give you some references: names of clients who are willing to talk about their experience with the lawyer.
When you meet with the lawyer, you should of course pay attention to the lawyer's plan of action. But also consider whether you want to work with the lawyer. Does the lawyer listen to you and answer your questions? Was the lawyer on time and professional with you? Do you understand how the lawyer intends to proceed? Do you feel a good rapport with the lawyer? This last question will become particularly important if your case goes to trial, as you will be spending many hours preparing and in court with your lawyer.